Centre brings new hope

When a new brain tumour research centre was officially opened at the University of Wolverhampton, a very special guest was invited for a VIP tour.

Harry Moseley gave the Brain Tumour UK Neuro-oncology Research Centre his seal of approval after meeting researchers and seeing the work they are carrying out in laboratories there.

Brave Harry

The 10-year-old is among those who could benefit from the important research being undertaken. He is living with an inoperable brain tumour but, despite the challenges he faces, he has helped raise more than £22,000 for Brain Tumour UK by making and selling bracelets.

Brave Harry, from Sheldon, Birmingham, was voted Britain’s Kindest Kid for his fundraising for the charity. Last year, he was one of five young people who were congratulated personally by Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, for their achievements. And in 2010 he was voted a Children’s Champion and met the Duke of York.

Vital research

Efforts such as Harry’s have been vital for the launch of the new research centre at the University. Combining two teams of experts, it is identifying the genes that trigger the toughest childhood and adult brain tumours and developing new forms of chemotherapy to attack them.

Directing the centre is Professor John Darling, a neuro-oncologist and Dean of the University’s School of Applied Sciences. He is one of the leading figures in the field of brain tumour research in the UK. His work focuses on how brain tumours start and why they are so resistant to therapy.

In addition, a research group from the renowned Institute of Neurology at University College London, led by Dr Tracy Warr, an expert in cancerous childhood and so-called "low grade" adult brain tumours, has also been relocated to Wolverhampton. This is enabling them to engage in a more extensive collaboration with cancer scientists at the University.

Their work is set to have a significant impact in what is an under-researched area. Brain tumours are a minority cancer, referred to as the ‘Cinderella Cancer’ because they receive very little research funding. The tumours are almost always fatal and can drastically change the personality of the sufferer.

Brain cancer deaths among children exceed those of leukaemia, making it the highest cause of childhood death after accidents.

The University of Wolverhampton is one of the few institutions extensively researching brain tumours and is leading a number of high-profile initiatives and developments.

Unique research centre

Professor Darling says: "There is nowhere else in the UK that is doing this. It is important that research into this type of cancer continues to be funded to allow potentially ground-breaking work to continue. We are optimistic that there will be some major developments and higher survival rates will be seen in the future.

"There are three key stages to the research. First, by comparing millions of genes from tumours and healthy tissue, we are identifying the genes most likely to cause brain tumours. We’ve made excellent progress in some adult brain tumours already, but there is still much to be done for childhood tumours and rarer adult tumours.

"Second, we’re working out what these problem genes do. For example, they might be blocking a vital process that would normally kill mutant cells or they could help a tumour grow the blood supplies it needs.

"And third, we are testing new chemotherapies to change the behaviour of those genes or stop them working altogether. The support of Brain Tumour UK will dramatically increase the rate at which we can identify and tackle these key genetic targets, to help everyone affected by these brain tumours."

Fundraising efforts

Brain Tumour UK, which is funding the centre, has also launched a £500,000 fundraising target for the first phase of the laboratory’s work and hopes to raise a further million to accelerate the search for new treatments.

The charity’s spokesman Trevor Lawson says: "We decided to fund the centre because of the team of experts at the University. This is a major investment and shows the confidence we have in the researchers."

University staff are also supporting fundraising efforts in memory of a former colleague Harry Lance, who sadly passed away earlier this year after suffering a brain tumour. The Harry Lance Memorial Fund will help support the vital research and is being overseen by Professor Darling.

"We want our research to translate into new medicines that will make a difference to people’s lives."

With the groundbreaking work that is being carried out, and the committed fundraisers who are providing support, people like Harry Moseley and his family have hope for the future.

For details of how to raise money log on to the website: www.braintumouruk.org.uk

To find out more about cancer research at the University of Wolverhampton see: www.wlv.ac.uk/rihs